Crime & Courts

Department of Justice names career federal attorney as temporary U.S. attorney for Alaska

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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has named career federal attorney John Kuhn as the top federal law enforcement officer in Alaska on a temporary basis.

It’s the first time since 2006 and the second time since statehood that the Justice Department has nominated a temporary U.S. attorney for Alaska. The position is normally filled by a presidential nominee who is subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate, and an assistant U.S. attorney has filled the spot on an interim basis since February.

Kuhn’s appointment was announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Justice, which said he previously served as U.S. attorney in the Western District of Kentucky, as well as in a variety of national roles.

In a brief interview Monday, Kuhn said he has “literally done virtually everything a lawyer can do in a U.S. attorney’s office,” including civil work, violent crime prosecution, public corruption cases and white-collar crimes.

Kuhn has no connection to Alaska, and in-state attorneys contacted Monday said that lack of local experience is unusual, if not unprecedented.

“I do think that is somewhat unusual,” Kuhn said, “but it does happen on occasion (nationally) with these interim appointments.”

President Joe Biden asked for the resignation of Bryan Schroder, Alaska’s former U.S. attorney, in February. Schroder was among 56 U.S. attorneys asked to resign during the transition to the Biden administration, and he was replaced on an interim basis by Bryan Wilson, Alaska’s first assistant U.S. attorney.

Federal law prohibits Wilson from serving more than 300 days as interim U.S. attorney, and that time limit resulted in Kuhn’s appointment.

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made similar temporary replacements across the country in 2018.

If Biden does not nominate a permanent U.S. attorney within 120 days, the U.S. District Court for Alaska may name a long-term temporary replacement until a permanent U.S. attorney is nominated and confirmed.

Kuhn himself has gone through that process. Appointed U.S. attorney in Louisville, Kentucky several years ago, he was chosen by judges as the long-term replacement and stayed in the job for three years.

“I don’t know what the future holds for me in terms of duration, but I am ready for any eventuality,” he said.

He said he expects to move to Alaska from Florida after the new year.

Traditionally, Alaska’s U.S. senators suggest nominations to the president. In 2006, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens was outraged when the administration of President George W. Bush named Nelson Cohen as a temporary replacement.

Eight days after Cohen was sworn into office, the FBI raided legislative offices across the state in the first public stages of the VECO scandal. The U.S. Attorney’s Office recused itself from participating in the investigation, which eventually drew in Stevens.

Cohen served as U.S. attorney until 2009, when he was replaced by Karen Loeffler.

Kuhn praised the work of current federal prosecutors in Anchorage, calling them “really highly respected” nationally.

He is a registered Democrat, and when asked about his political leanings, he said political affiliation “plays no role whatsoever” in the office’s work.

“I will say first and foremost, I am a career service Department of Justice lawyer. This isn’t a political appointment,” he said.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.